Surgical trauma ICU travel nurses Starla and David Fincher are currently dedicating their skills to fighting COVID-19 in their home state of Georgia. “We’re from Albany and Phoebe Putney is our local hospital. It’s where we both started our careers. When the scope of this crisis became known, we felt like we needed to be here to help our hometown, our old coworkers, and help at Phoebe Putney.”
Prior to returning home to battle the virus, the Finchers worked in the COVID ICU in Gainesville, Georgia, for two months. “We volunteered to work in the COVID ICU in Gainesville because so many of our coworkers have small children at home, and it’s just David and me,” Starla says.
How teamwork is the only way to battle this crisis
Both Finchers are experienced travel nurses: David has been doing travel nursing for seven years, Starla for two. Being travel nurses has given them the experience to arrive at a new assignment, ready to work as just another part of an already-established team. This current assignment made it even easier because they were working at their home base, and they felt everyone was equally prepared to fight.
“I have never seen staff go so above and beyond: the CNAs, the nurses, the physicians, the respiratory therapists, because we cannot do our jobs without them,” Starla says. “Everybody works as a team; everybody is there for the same reason. There is no other team that I would rather work beside right now.”
Seeing other similar acts of kindness and giving back has been another bright light during these dark times, the Finchers say.
“A positive thing is the camaraderie between nurses, doctors, and the staff. This has brought a lot of us together. When we are all trying to fight this one thing, it makes all of us want to help in any way we can. Just the other day, we swept our own rooms, because we wanted to help out our cleaner. There are 36 rooms that she has to take care of, so we’re all pitching in to help each other out. You take people for granted on the days without this. Housekeeping is one of those, but when everything starts piling up, we have to help everyone out.”
“We grabbed a broom,” Starla says. “One person grabbed a mop, and another started emptying the garbage. She was so thankful, and she is such a sweetheart anyway, we would do anything for her.”
Fighting what feels like an insurmountable fight
Starla says one of the unusual things about COVID-19 is that a lot of the patients they’re seeing are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, something we’re not hearing about in the news.
“Age means nothing to this virus; it’s the craziest thing to see. The media keeps emphasizing that it’s impacting the elderly, but it’s the younger population we’re seeing. We’ll think they’re doing ok, and then the next thing we know they’ve literally coded and died. They just die.”
For David, every day has been a learning experience.
“It’s very challenging. Every day, even if it’s the same patient three days in a row, it’s something new you’re trying to figure out,” he says. “Just the other day, we were doing critical care rounds. Right before rounds, Starla’s patient was doing fine, then 10 minutes later he was dead.”
“Literally that fast,” Starla continues. “We had done everything we could; he was doing fine. I had started him on CRRT [Continuous Renal Replacement Therapy], he was taking it like a champion, then all of a sudden, his blood turned almost tar black, and within 10 minutes he was gone! He was only in his 40s.”
Flattening the curve
Starla and David are frustrated that communities aren’t doing a very good job of social distancing, especially since it’s one of the most important preventive measures we can take.
“Social distancing really needs to happen,” David says. “We really need to stay away from each other, and people aren’t. This scares us. Even when we go to town, we try to go at a time when nobody is around, and we always wear our masks. We order our groceries online and go to the drive through to pick it up. We try to distance ourselves from everybody.”
“It’s so aggravating to see that!” Starla says. “We understand that Georgia has to open back up eventually, but I think it’s premature. I wish people could come to work with us for just an hour and see what we are seeing — we have people dying in front of our eyes. I’ve been a nurse for 11 years and have never seen anything like it. I have worked through H1N1, Ebola — this beats everything I have seen in my nursing career. I cry every day on the way home.”
Shared experiences make for unbreakable support
Since David and Starla both work in the same hospital with the same patient population, they understand what the other is going through without even having to say a word. But just having someone there makes the day-to-day tragedies they see easier to deal with.
“We both see it,” David says. “We both understand it. When she has a bad day, I understand because I’ve had that same bad day. That’s what makes us work because we both see it, side by side. Then on our ride home, we can vent to each other about our day. You can see images on the news or on Facebook, but when you have to suit up in that stuff, go in that room, stand in that hot room for four or five hours at a time to stabilize your patient, then you really understand.”
Taking down time to heal
The Finchers look forward to their days off so they can be together and spend time outdoors.
“As long as the weather is nice, we will spend it outside all day long. We go fishing, we walk, we ride our bikes,” Starla says. “We try to remember that we don’t live to work. When we’re not at work, we try not to think about it. Although right now, it is tough not to because we wonder what we could do differently. So, we do bounce ideas off each other. Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.”
“It’s just the little things; if we can get our minds off it on our days off, get out fishing, bike riding, spending time together, and not talking about work — when we hit our camper, work talk stays in the truck,” David says.
How travel nursing helped to prepare them for the COVID-19 fight
David feels that being a travel nurse gave them a leg up in the fight against the virus. They were already very adaptable and were able to shift gears at a moment’s notice.
“The thing about travel nursing is you must be adaptable. When you go to a new facility, their charting system is going to be different, there are different protocols, so you need to be very flexible.”
“Our suggestions to those travel nurses who are currently helping patients fight the virus is to stay strong!” David says.
Starla continues: “Hang in there because it’ll end eventually. We are all just going to have to take this on as one big team, because we’re all on the same team.”
And the best part of working together? “We spend 24/7, 365 days a year together. And we are best friends!”
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